01
Jul
08

get ready: cern supercollider rolls the dice next week

Next week, on Monday, July 7th (* update, see comments below) , the guys and gals at CERN in Switzerland will turn on the world’s largest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider. This enormous facility is a 27-kilometer long ring of supercooled magnets buried 100 meters deep, built to accelerate matter to cosmic speeds, smash the matter against itself and watch closely the results of the collisions.

The LHC’s purpose is to recreate conditions of the earliest measurable instant of time, known as the Big Bang. The July 7th experiments promise to turn on the lights with regard to a wide range of particles that are presumed to exist but have never been observed.

It’s also presumed the Earth will exist on July 8th, but you never know.

While I would cheerfully welcome an event that did away with humankind’s tiresome presumption of its importance in the universe, I would prefer that the most annoying people among us learned about their insignificance before facing it. According to some physicists, booting up the LHC has some possible runaway risks that might prevent that all-important reckoning period.

Recreating the universe’s beginnings at the energy levels the LHC can muster brings with it a series of potentially unpalatable scenarios that could clear your summer schedule in a big hurry. They include:

Creation of Magnetic Monopoles: Long story short, nobody knows what the fundamental deal is with magnetic force. The question of what kind of particles carry magnetic force is an unsolved problem in physics, and some LHC experiments are designed to find out. One far-out risk scenario with these experiments is the creation of monopole magnets, particles that, unlike normal magnets with two opposing poles, only have one. There are theories and some physical evidence that these particles exist in nature but move very quickly, near the speed of light. If cooked up by the LHC in sufficient numbers, the particles, predicted to be much much more strongly-charged than electrons, stripped of their cosmic speeds and wallowing in the Earth’s gravitational field might get awful friendly with each other and pile up in huge arcs or waves that encompass and disrupt the earth’s electromagnetic field, which would not be great for survivability where working electricity is a factor in daily life.

Nano-Blackholes: According to Stephen Hawking, little bitty black holes occur and “evaporate” in nature when certain cosmic rays smack into stuff. LHC’s experiments are very much about simulating and reproducing cosmic rays smacking into stuff and so may develop such nano-blackholes but without the speed and trajectory of the naturally occurring ones. As with the monopole magnets, the danger is that these should-be-hauling-ass objects would instead poke around the earth’s gravity field and accumulate, not evaporate. A resulting combined greater-than-nano-scale black hole appearing 100m under the Swiss countryside would make fast work of the country’s cheese, chocolate, watchmakers and cukoo clocks, sucking them all in, followed by you and me and everything on earth some fraction of a second later. Even Dr. Hawking, if he were present, would barely have time to press the key on his vocalizer for “oh shit.”

Creaton of Strangelets: My personal favorite: the LHC may produce a physical manifestation of the theoretical phenomenon of a strangelet. Not the name of a garage band band on a Pebbles compilation, strangelets are constructions made of the stuff that makes up protons and neutrons, known as quarks. An aim of LHC experiments is to unify the theories behind the behavior of three of the four basic forces on physics (gravity is omitted) : electromagnetic, strong nuclear force (the force that holds nuclei together) and weak nuclear force (the force that keeps electrons from flying out of the nuclear orbit in the atom.) In exploring the commonalities between these forces, strangelets were conceived. A strangelet is a chunk of strange matter (they name this stuff well, don’t they?) which is a more stable version of an atom due to a slightly different quark recipe in its composition. Once again, terrestrial as opposed to celestial speed is the issue. The general worry is that the strangelets might, when created “at rest” (meaning not near the speed of light) get into a slow collision with an unsuspecting nucleus of an atom of copper or whatever. The property of the stragelet’s construction is such that it catalyzes the copper atom into strange matter, which releases energy, and another strangelet, and so on in a chain reaction until the planet is converted into a hot lump of uninhabitable strange matter.

In the minutes leading to the detonation of the world’s first atomic bomb, Enrico Fermi, in order to allay the tension, offered to take bets on the result of the explosion: would the first uncontrolled explosive nuclear chain reaction ignite the atmosphere and destroy New Mexico, or the whole planet?

Fermi was making a joke, but it’s worth remembering that he didn’t know what was going to happen to the atmosphere – nobody did. And nobody claimed to.

In contrast, LHC staff have, in a quite sad and transparent betrayal of forthrightness, denied that any LHC experiments pose any kind of risk.

A world where an affront to common sense such as this stands – a place where people in officialdom will tell you with a straight face that this unprecedented gear used in this unprecedented way at unprecedented energy levels categorically can not pose any safety risk – that’s a world so preoccupied with condescension, so lost in its willingness to bullshit that I for one can do without it.

Press the button!

18
Jun
08

Round-Trip White Flight, Detroit Style

Ty Cobb

(Above: Detroit’s Ty Cobb spots a black guy in the stands at Tiger Stadium)

So the lady and I took off to Detroit last week to catch the White Sox play the Tigers at Comerica Park. It was our first visit to Motor City, and now I know why.

After the Sox’s 2-1 loss in the 9th inning courtesy of Octavio Dotel’s hung slider to Miguel “Not Orlando” Cabrera, resulting in a home run to left center and 3-game sweep for the Tigers, the crowd filed out onto Woodward Avenue, site of Martin Luther King’s 1963 march. We were sporting Sox black and white colors in a sea of Tiger orange, which prompted the following first-innocuous-then-horrifying exchange:

Group of white Tigers fans: Hey, that sweep’s gotta hurt.

Us: Yeah, Kenny Rogers brought his stuff today. But hey, what’s the use of being out in front of the division if you can’t drop three on the road?

Group of white Tigers fans, walking away: Well, thanks for bringing your race. We love your race.

Us: (flummoxed, stunned silence)

We were just…thanked…for being white people.

I knew Detroit is a legendarily messed up place. It did not escape my notice that in a city sporting an 81% black population the only African-American faces inside Comerica were behind the concession stands. It wasn’t a surprise that Comerica is a park built for the enjoyment of white suburbanites.

You know, it’s just like Wrigley Field.

Taking in the city at large, the scars of the ’67 riots were plain, as was the whiplash effect of driving north on E Jefferson and crossing Maryland Avenue, of moving from blight (or “bloit”, a term I coined) to manicured lawn in the blink of an eye. The landscape spoke volumes about the sorry situation on the ground. As unintegrated as much of Chicago is, Detroit’s bunker mentality set a standard of white flight that Chicago couldn’t come close to matching, thank god.

But…thank you for being white? Hey, I’m fat and lazy too, where’s my trophy?

03
Mar
08

Saul Bass vs. Star Wars

For a few years now the Saul Bass-inspired “Hitchcock” font has been available on the net, but not until this has someone done something really great with it. Brought to you by – who else – Some Guy On The Internet: the titles to Star Wars if Saul Bass had done them.

(link provided by the estimable Greg Dunlap, he of Cineblog, Drupal development and the Coffee Table Hall Of Fame )

13
Feb
08

What’s In Devo’s Basement?

General Boy’s Boy, Mark Mothersbaugh

Once, I produced music technology video and stuff for Gearwire.com, but nothing as cool as this piece wherein GW producers Bill Holland and Gretchen Hasse are invited into the basement of Mutato Muzika, the Los Angeles studio home of Devo. Gretchen turns on the nightvision and Bill leads us through the Mines of Mutato.

Artifacts spanning Devo’s career as well as Mutato’s business of soundtrack composition for the likes of feature film director Wes Anderson are casually piled hither and yon in the ghostly Baghdad-esque nightvision light. We stub our toe on the Wasp bass synth, almost knock over the Acoustic Reverbrato used on the keyboards on Devo’s “Gut Feeling” (!!), spot Devo’s Roland D-50 leaned up against the wall with “Gates Of Steel” patch numbers helpfully written thereupon and get an earful of guidance from Mutato composer / curator John Enroth.

Just when it couldn’t get any cooler, we find Raymond Scott‘s (broken) Electronium – the world’s first sequencer – complete with “Doo Wah” knob. It goes to prove what I always guessed: Mark Mothersbaugh + major-league film budgets + Ebay = The Coolest Basement In The Western World.

Gear porn doesn’t get any better than this. Nice work Gearwire!

04
Feb
08

Void Drummer Sean Finnegan 1965-2008

According to Dischord Records, Sean Finnegan, drummer with the band Void has passed away. (Link from Can’t Stop The Bleeding.)


Sean’s drumming in Void was always a standout in the crowded field of DC hardcore. Most drummers channeled their intensity into a straight, linear increase in regular tempo, but Sean’s style was way beyond that athletic exercise. His drums swell and contract with the guitar changes without ever giving up any focus or energy. Nobody in or out of the genre matched his elastic anarchic fury behind the kit.

We are sad to announce that Sean Finnegan, the drummer from Void and an original member of the Dischord family, passed away on Wednesday January 30th of an apparent heart attack, he was 43. Sean’s family will receive friends Monday 2 to 5 and 7 to 9 P.M. at HARRY H. WITZKE’S FAMILY FUNERAL HOME, INC., 4112 Old Columbia Pike, Ellicott City, Maryland. Sean played in Void while they we’re active from 1980-1983 and was recently working on the set of the HBO production, “The Wire”. An obituary and guest book can be found in the Baltimore Sun. Our thoughts and best wishes go out to Sean’s many friends and family members.

In lieu of flowers Sean’s family ask that donations may be made to the Fisher House, Walter Reed Hospital , Washington, D.C

So long, Sean.

19
Oct
07

I Wasn’t Kidding, I Like It Better

cover_my_ears.jpg

This Van Halen video clip is finding itself in a lot of places, and creating lots of typing. Unfortunately, most of this comment and message-board chatter is kind of dumb. Especially the sanctimonious blah-blah from the many pony-tailed inhabitants of various guitar/gear sites. To hear them tell it, this is some kind of moment of failure for the Van Halens and isn’t it a shame?

Listen up, shreddy: It is not a shame, it is transcendent.

While I like VH’s Fair Warning a lot, it’s true that I have always hated 1984’s “Jump”. Thanks to the song’s intense and enduring popularity it has stubbornly refused to fade from my memory as so many REO Speedwagon and Styx songs obligingly have. When I first saw this clip, my jaw dropped as all of yours did, but mine dropped because finally, this song was coming out of the speakers the same way I had always heard it.

Let me explain: this song’s ridiculous, obvious major-key swells, as used for the the ground under guitarist Eddie Van Halen’s histrionics are intended to be stirring and uplifting. Indeed, this is how most appreciative listeners experience these moments. I’m just not that lucky.

This is the clip’s genius: when the anthems’ most triumphant peaks arrive with an alarming leviathan groan instead of the intended sound of angels gently urinating arcs into the sky, it throws, finally, the overt phoniness of this wretched song into sharp contrast. The dissonance highlights exactly where you were supposed to be most elated, most manipulated by greeting-card level sentimentality — but instead leaves you appropriately laughing. Bless you, Van Halen.

The dissonance itself, well, that’s no crime at all. On-stage dissonance is in fact pretty goddamn cool, as the following clips clearly prove.

(Fred Willard introduces the lead guitar stylings of Mark Mothersbaugh)

(A tender ballad from a skinny bunch)

(The late, great Brainiac)

28
Aug
07

National Lampoon’s Beatts, Miller and McConnachie at Hideout

Josh Karp, Chris Miller, Brian McConnachie

Tonight at the Hideout was the latest in a string of comedy-centric events put on by Chicago rock label Drag City. At the front bar I spotted DC’s Dan Koretzky and asked him what’s with his stalwart music label and the comedy lately (back in December, I saw the first in his series at Weeds hosted by Fred Armisen). I got a helpful “I dunno, but thanks for coming” for my trouble. Hey, who cares why? Just keep up the great work, especially when it brings my heroes onstage.

Tonight’s panel: No less than creators of the mighty 1970s National Lampoon magazine: Anne Beatts, Chris Miller and Brian McConnachie all wrote and edited the late great magazine in its heyday (universally known as “when it was funny”) and shared hours of stories about the giants there including Henry Beard, Doug Kinney, Michael “Mr. Mike” O’Donohue, and even P.J. “David Horowitz” O’Rourke.

The ’70-’75 Lampoon was evergreen for smart gags and brutal satire, and as a bona fide humor magazine, nothing since has ever came close. The Onion is the only contender, yet forever removed from the ‘Poon’s weight class due to its being a parody form. Maybe the Buffalo Beast?

Some sniff at the post-’75 ‘Poon, but not me. I started regularly buying it in ’79 or so and purchased the many available reprints of the early days. I even liked it into the 1980s, but by ’82 or ’83 it was clearly weakened beyond help.

By then it had served its purpose in the North American comedic pageant: populating Saturday Night Live and SCTV with writers and performers and re-conceiving the American comedy film with Animal House.

Beatts, now a screenwriting instructor at USC, relayed a great story detailing a time she took acid with Mike O’Donoghue and earned her place at the sausage party that was the Lampoon. In the time before her unprecedented work on the early years of Saturday Night Live, she told of being brought to NatLamp editorial dinners and having her stuff run in the magazine before long. She had loving descriptions of the late Michael O’Donoghue, a guy who I mostly remember for an early SNL bit where he performed an imitation of “Tony Orlando and Dawn after having nine inch steel spikes with real sharp ends plunged into their eyes.” I was, what, nine years old when I saw that? I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but I will never forget the punhcline writhing and shrieking of Mr. Mike and “Dawn”.

Miller, who along with Doug Kinney and Harold Ramis wrote the screenplay for Animal House based on his experiences as a Dartmouth frat boy, talked up his new book and recalled his journey to the Lampoon’s pages on the back of debauched stories detailing holiday turkey-fucking, beatoff contests and erotic encounters with telephones. Oh, and the phrase “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs”? That was him, too. Miller wrote for an agency before he was fired for pulling out a bag of pot in front of his bosses.

McConnachie, a recognizable visage from the many films he’s appeared in rolled out some tape of John Belushi in his National Lampoon Radio Hour days doing a Sondheim-esque turn as Captain Ahab in the musical “Moby.”

During Q&A, every one of them name-checked James Thurber as an influence, which only makes sense – and Beatts invoked Dorothy Parker’s name along with the Algonquin round table.

Beatts also remarked about the lack of a point of view in modern mainstream comedies. She called out Judd Apatow specifically, guessing that his point of view was either not discernible or was “unattractive guys can get with attractive women”. Thanks Ann, for putting a finger on what isn’t there with the Apatows and the Chandrasekhars: what Thurber would call “Humor: emotional chaos remembered in tranquility.”

And thanks as always to the eagle-eyed Maureen for spotting this once-in-a-lifetime event. Love you!




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Email

rob [at] warmowski [dot] com

@warmowski on twitter

Rob’s Bands

Rob Warmowski entry at Chicago Punk Database
1984-89: Defoliants
1991-94: Buzzmuscle
2001-05: San Andreas Fault
2008- : Sirs
2008- : Allende

Rob at Huffington Post

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